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March 17, 2007

Law And Order Candidate


At first, I thought today’s LAT on-line headline about the potential presidential candidacy of Fred Thompson was a bit of a joke.  But that was before I clicked through to the article and saw the accompanying photos.

The smaller one, a tight shot of Thompson in front of an American flag, I believe, is from “real life.”  The second, much larger shot, however, is the one you see above.

Forming a package with the pic is the following caption on the “enlarge” page:

ALTERNATIVE TO MODERATES: Fred Thompson, who portrays a politically savvy district attorney on NBC’s “Law & Order,” takes conservative positions on key social issues.

Sure the text identifies Thompson as an actor (and is followed by a photo credit from NBC).  At the same time, however, the caption doesn’t actually identify the photo as fictional, but assumes you (as a full-blooded American TV watcher) know that already.  Subtle point maybe, but doesn’t the caption itself blend fiction and reality by marrying (in one sentence) Thompson’s “conservative positions” to the visual representation and physical stance of his television persona?

I am very interested in your reaction to this image — particularly how you encounter it perceptually, and whether (and how) you experience it shifting back-and-forth between Hollywood and Washingtonland. 

And, just to inform the discussion a bit, I thought I’d borrow a few reactions from an interesting comment thread at Ezra Klein (after he asks: “Can someone explain to me who former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson is and why anyone cares that he’s thinking of running for president?”)

Snip 1:  People would care that he’s running for president because they’d get all confused and think his resume is much more impressive than it really is. …Without referencing Wikipedia I can’t tell you which of his film-jobs he’s actually had in real life and which he hasn’t, so I have to assume he’s an admiral in the USNavy who also spent time in the Senate while moonlighting as a district attorney in NYC, and at one time may have been an air traffic controller.

Snip 2:  Fred Thompson would be a much better Republican President than the current occupant. I realize that’s not saying much, of course, but you at least get the sense that he might understand the profundity of habeas corpus.

Snip 3: Born in Alabama, the former Senator from TN (1994-2003) is a staunch Conservative and, known as a man of integrity. He will carry the south.

Snip 4:  Thompson served for about 9 years in the Senate. Which according to DEMS standards is more than enough to run for president, seeing as he has more experience there that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.

Snip 5:  (N)othing breeds bottom of the barrel like desperation. And the GOP is desperated.

(image: David Rose / NBC via

  • Chris Landee

    Fred Thompson appeared in the 1993 movie “In the Line of Fire” with Clint Eastwood. Thompson played a Haldermann-like White House Chief of Staff who tried to boss the Secret Service security agent (played by Eastwood) into moving protestors at a political rally, simply because they interfered with the photo op. Eastwood refused.
    Later in a confrontation, Thompson demanded “Do you know who I am?” Eastwood replied “Yes, you are 200 pounds of shit in a cheap suit.”
    I can’t wait for the political ads.
    Chris Landee

  • jonst

    This guy can win. I don’t want him to win. I don’t think it would be good for the nation if he won. But this guy can win. He is very dangerous and the only GOPer I fear out of the bunch that is out there now. This is one shrewd son of a bitch. Underestimate him at your own peril. I remember him well from the Watergate days. I’m a lawyer. In my opinion this guy was a hell of lawyer. He knows how to debate…and he knows how the examine someone.

  • Mad_nVT

    Ouch. I am having a little bit of problem with Reality. Who is this guy? Is it possible that we could have a TV actor as a President?
    The guy in the photo, if that is a photo, either needs to get a new “cheap suit”, or needs to lose weight.

  • Patrick

    Honestly, the last thing our country needs, at this time, is a southern Nazi at the helm. Haven’t we suffered enough as a people these past six years?
    I am afraid, that as a nation, we are totally unable to absorb any more Republicanism being fully saturated. Even the military is now in blowback mode against the Elephants. Should we suffer another jackboot in the WH the consequences could be devastating. Hopefully, I’ll be out of country when the revolution commences.

  • ummabdulla

    I wouldn’t have known that this was a fictional photo, because I don’t watch American TV. I do know of him – that’s he’s been in Congress and that he’s an actor. What city is that in the photo?
    I was just thinking the other day that the Republican candidates look old and weak. I know that McCain is the former military man and former POW, but he doesn’t project that image now. And the last photo of Guiliani I saw was one where the hero looked kind of feeble. Romney looks more young and energetic, but his religion is a big problem.
    So I wouldn’t underestimate Fred Thompson either, and I think this photo has some appeal. (Is that New York? Is his fictional persona, keeping New York safe, stronger than Guiliani’s real former role?)
    From the LA Times article: “Another prospective answer to the prayers of some conservatives is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. His recent admission of an extramarital affair while he pressed for impeachment proceedings against President Clinton was seen partly as an effort to inoculate himself from future criticism of his personal life.”
    Just how desperate are they?

  • ummabdulla

    “Is it possible that we could have a TV actor as a President?”
    Well, we had Reagan – not once but twice.

  • smiley

    ha ha ha! My first thought about that photo has already been echoed here: “He’s a white guy in a suit.” Second thought: “Well, if he runs, he probably beats Obama on the race issue.”
    Third thought, upon reading the comment from Mad_nVT: Is it possible that we could have a TV actor as president (again?) and the answer is clearly yes.

  • tina

    He looks mean and badass in the picture. I shudder to think what sort of people he appeals to…:(

  • itwasntme

    Such an ugly expression. Tina’s right, he looks just plain mean. Looks like the Repugs will run anyone who can talk intelligently, even if it’s from a script.
    The only one who has the look of the future is Obama, who actually smiles and makes you think that the rest of this century could turn out better than the last. I remember that was John Kennedy’s look, and it was why so many people loved him.
    No energy from this man. We need energy.

  • noen

    I don’t watch TV anymore so I can only react to what I see. And I see a very pissed off, dangerous man who is looking directly at me with an expression of disgust on his face. The down-turned corners of his mouth convey that emotion quite clearly. His body is turned slightly, he is just pausing on his way to something more important.
    On the other hand he looks like every other white, middle aged, corporate CEO sociopath.

  • travy

    the first thing that jumped out at me was the unnatural lighting of the foreground not matching the natural light background. it’s a minor point and a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but the unevenness of the light steals its authenticity and subconsciously makes the viewer feel manipulated or part of a something not “real”.
    probably not what an actor seeking real office is looking to achieve. thompson should probably keep his l&o publicity shots off the campaign trail…

  • lowly grunt

    He’s going to eat a kitten.

  • jonst

    If think Fred Thompson is a Nazi, or will come across one, you are either a fool, or you don’t know anything about this Nazis.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    A 1994 New York Times profile described his acting roles as ones that portray authority : ‘The glowering, hulking Mr. Thompson has played a White House chief of staff, a director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a highly placed F.B.I. agent, a rear admiral, even a Senator. When Hollywood directors need someone who can personify governmental power, they often turn to him.’
    …not to be; to serve as; or even to perform; rather : to personify.
    “personify” => Anthropomorphism :
    as Senator this Senator does not represent the people, thus; he represents a Senator.

  • anna

    the first thing to bear in mind, I think, is just how much GOP conventional wisdom bubbles up from the dopes on wingnut radio (“fight ‘em over there so we don’t have to fight ‘em over here” being perhaps the preeminent example). I don’t listen that much, but I’ve heard both Hannity and Hewitt talking about “200 Pounds Of Shit” Thompson as a distinct possibility. my take on it is that they’re basically throwing everybody they can in and will go with whichever one sticks. I think they were hoping for a Real Live Conservative like George Allen, but will be very happy with Fred, especially if his toughguy demeanor sells, and lord knows all of their listeners are stupid enough to buy.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Who cares? Let him run and steal some of Giuliani’s lead. Trust me, you do not want Giuliani for president, either.
    By the way, it’s not kosher to borrow the comment thread from another blog and not credit the commenters. Their comments are copyright-protected at creation. Commenters are, essentially, authors.
    “Under the Berne Convention, copyrights for creative works do not have to be asserted or declared, as they are automatically in force at creation: an author need not ‘register’ or ‘apply for’ a copyright in countries adhering to the Berne Convention. As soon as a work is ‘fixed,’ that is, written or recorded on some physical medium, its author is automatically entitled to all copyrights in the work, and to any derivative works unless and until the author explicitly disclaims them, or until the copyright expires.”

  • Daniel Humphries

    I do watch American TV (people who don’t always seem to go out of their way to mention it, unsolicited… usually no one asked, or cares). I wouldn’t underestimate Thompson’s folksy appeal. His character on Law & Order is conservative, just like the actor playing him. But the character is also honest, forthright, self-deprecating and strong. He’s like a gruff teddy bear.
    This is a stock promotional image (as betrayed by the lighting). (And yes that is NYC in the background). Thompson may look like a mean sumbitch in this photo, but if he emerges as a serious candidate, you’ll see how he blends this scowl into a kind of reassuring, father-figure-style kindness.
    I’m not saying any of it is real, or in any way makes him qualified. But there it is, nonetheless.
    Incidentally, is there something I am missing about Thompson’s political stances? Why all the nazi and jackboot comments? Is he ultra-conservative? Or is this just based on the “R” next to his name and his bulldog visage?
    (I’m also assuming the indignation of over the possibility of an actor in the White House is tongue-in-cheek… or written by time travelers from 1946.)

  • vwcat

    he is a true conservative.
    I don’t worry so much that people will confuse his real person with his Law and Order character so much as they will see him as the second coming of Reagan. Thompson, an actor, then Senator and then actor again with the republican party and conservative creds will drive the base insane thinking they finally found Ronnie again after 20 years.
    Though, we as dems would love to find someone like an FDR or JFK we also realize that our candidates of every year is their own self and not the eptiome of one of those two. We are looking for the qualities of them or someone who can be a good, memorable, defining prez like those 2.
    But, republicans have been looking under rocks trying to find reagan. They want the reincarnation of the man. I wonder what they think when they see Ron Jr. and know he is a left leaning indie. They must die alittle each time. So, with Thompson they figure they have finally found Reagan all over again. With a face redo they figure they can dream all over again.

  • Johanna

    The mean look is for the terrorists. Standing in front of NYC he is saying, you want another crack at it, come and get it, but this time you have to go through me. Hillary won’t be man enough to run against this guy.

  • Lt. Bighorn

    « the caption doesn’t actually identify the photo as fictional, but assumes you (as a full-blooded American TV watcher) know that already. »
    Can a photo like this be “fictional”? This is clearly a picture of the real Fred Thompson standing in front of the real NYC skyline. But yet, he adopts a facial expression suited for the fictional character he plays on TV.
    But all politicians play roles. Dubya in his flight suit was more unbelievable than Thompson as the hard-ass prosecutor.

  • ummabdulla

    Daniel Humphries: “I do watch American TV (people who don’t always seem to go out of their way to mention it, unsolicited… usually no one asked, or cares).”
    The reason that I (and others, I assume) mentioned it is because the post said:
    “At the same time, however, the caption doesn’t actually identify the photo as fictional, but assumes you (as a full-blooded American TV watcher) know that already.”
    I don’t live in the U.S. and have never seen Law & Order, so I had no idea that this was a photo from the show.

  • Cooksey-Talbott

    I never watch TV but I recognized the mark of pro image makers right off the bat.
    Most pols have not the faintest clue as to the psycho dynamics of pro imaging and from that we see things like California’s Phil Angelides getting steamrolled by Arnold’s photography machine.
    In this image the dominant camera angle coupled with the strong fresnel HMI (?) key and kick pop the sitter out of the overcast background with a supraliminal kick of an object with a strong local (>1:4) lighting ratio in a relatively flat scene.
    The glassy quality of the accent light further serves to punch the sitter out as a contrasty object in a flat scene.
    Folks who actually hire some good talent can run roughshod over the lame politicians who hire political imaging folks to make overpriced commercials for them.
    Where hollywood and politics collides there is no hope for the politicians who are stiff, lifeless and without a clue as to how to look good on camera and how to find people who have the gear and chops to do the deed…
    The local synchopantic political consultancy and PR firm will not be able to keep up and they never do as they can not manipulate the medium on the sublime level necessary to make really compelling images.
    All I needed was one look at the shot to know it was an outtake from a pro motion production…
    Most folks would be totally sucked in by the subtle psychological manipulations of the sitter and lighting to believe the fellow was a powerful character.

  • Ernest Tomlinson

    I’m a chess nut so I’m weird, and the first thing the photo reminded me was of the famous master Viktor Korchnoi (see for example, who like Thompson seems to have been around forever and isn’t about to retire despite his age. Also Korchnoi is legendary for his bad temper and ill grace in losing games, traits that helped him earn the name “Viktor the Terrible”.
    I remembered In the Line of Fire too but a different scene. The Thompson character is chewing Eastwood out for breaking up a political rally in disorder after thinking that a gun had been fired. Thompson is incensed that the President had to been seen rushed off into safety by the Secret Service–even though, of course, he himself scurried off like a rat at the first alarm–and fumes, “You made him look like a coward.” “I thought he looked all right,” replies Eastwood. “You’re the one who looked like a damn coward.”
    I doubt whether Fred Thompson could ever be another Reagan. noen and others are right: he’s trying to look determined but he also manages to look mean. Nothing like Reagan’s well-polished grin and way of gazing slightly above and beyond the camera as if he were seeing some hopeful portent in the sky, the dawning of morning in America. But then the environment has changed. It isn’t hope the Republicans are selling now, it’s fear.

  • tina

    why oh why do these authoritarian types need the take charge father figure? It’s no wonder this is where the religious right lands, with their big Daddy in the sky telling them how it needs to be done. No ability to make decisions for themselves.
    Anyway, yes, he may be trying to look like a protector and some people may like that…however there is another son of the South on the side of the Dems and that is Edwards. He is a different sort, the Southern gentleman, and is well regarded as such even by his rivals.
    Something to think about.

  • ummabdulla

    Ernest Tomlinson: “It isn’t hope the Republicans are selling now, it’s fear.”
    That kind of sums it up, doesn’t it? And a candidate like Obama represents “hope”… So what will the voters choose? Even if they’re leaning towards “hope”, one October surprise could throw them into the “fear” camp.

  • Cactus

    This must have been a publicity shot because in the show he’s almost always seen in his office. In fact, I think the only reason he’s on the show is to spout his rightie views once or twice each week. And is this particular shot the release because of the NYC background…….a shot across the bow at Giuliani?
    I’m not a pro, but to me, if I’m aware of the lighting, it failed. In this shot it is obvious that the light is shining on his face and it’s noticeable, therefore not natural regardless of the surroundings.
    As others have noted, his expression is very angry. It puts him somewhere between Bush and Cheney, which probably is where he is in reality…..conservative without the compassion for which Bush is so noted. And that he subs for that despicable Paul Harvey is just another nail.
    So he’s angry, vengeful, myopic, ambitious, single minded and totally without compassion. Yep, sounds like a republican candidate.

  • Nell

    Chair of Scooter Libby’s defense committee, TV star… The man’s 200 pounds of sh*t in an expensive suit.

  • mikros

    ummabdulla nailed it: we’re screwed.
    Sadly, politics these days is all about image and identity. There’s no room for discussion of issues and the best way to solve them. Obama and Clinton are politicians; Thompson is VERY aware of the power of the media. People who need strong daddies will immediately identify with him, without being able to articulate why. The media will praise his resolute character. And we’ll be left to bitch on the internet about why the media keeps painting Obama as young and inexperienced, or Clinton as shrill.
    Image is reality. Most Americans just vote their gut, and they’re not sophisticated enough to realize that they’re being manipulated. We will continue to lose until we get better at managing the message. Policy proposals don’t win elections.

  • Thomas Nephew

    Re the background: it’s not the lighting, it’s the NYC. That may be 9/11 territory behind Thompson — can any NYCers confirm that? At any rate, the cityscape behind him plausibly evokes that for me. L&O was flogging 9/11 related stories a lot for a while there, and this works out fine for Thompson now. That glare is a little theatrical, but the background makes it plausible as a campaign image. Thompson is all ‘tough on terror’, ‘who cares’ about torture, both on the show and in person. He’s been playing himself on L&O with a view to bigger things; that photo will work for a lot of people. Reagan II.

  • Hub

    I’m a bit offended by your comment, Patrick: “Honestly, the last thing our country needs, at this time, is a southern Nazi at the helm.” While I, like you, am disgusted with Bush and his incompetence, he is no Nazi. He’s just not smart enough to be Commander-in-Chief. To call him, or even Fred Thompson, a Nazi betrays your ignorance of the Nazi party. Also, you should note that when using the word “southern” as you did, you should capitalize it. Your comment is both offensive and bigoted. Your disdain for Southerners is clear and misguided. Why do you hate us? Because a jackass from Texas used Daddy’s name to get elected and ruin our country? Because you think we’re all stupid? Because you think we’re all right-wing religious fanatics? Because you think we’re all in-bred? Because you think we’re all mean? Because we’re all judgmental?
    The South I know is full of conservatives, yes, but most of the ones I know are nice. The South is also full of left-wing liberals and staunch libertarians. We do have a few religious nuts, but we also have a lot of well-informed and educated people living with us, thinking critically, even, about religion, politics, and all sorts of interesting topics other than NASCAR and sweet iced tea.
    Just as Patrick doesn’t know much about Nazis or Southerners, none of us can know much at all about the true, non-fictional Fred Thompson from looking at a doctored-up photograph. All we can know from this photo is, perhaps, what L&O wanted to portray. I doubt I’d vote for him because I do lean left, but I’ll admit that I know nothing about him personally, and this photo sheds no light whatsoever on his character. Yes, he looks mean and pissed off and fat, but that’s just the way he looks in one photograph. All we can do with a photograph is view it with caution, knowing that some would try to manipulate our perceptions with it. To judge any man or woman based on one photograph is a mistake. Take heed and reserve your judgments.

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